BY SUSAN SHARP
FME NEWS SERVICE
TEMPLE — The dove population is alive and well in Texas.
Seven species of doves are indigenous to Texas, and all are flourishing, said Shaun Oldenburger, who is the Migratory Shore and Upland Game Bird program leader for the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department.
Part of Oldenburger’s job is to measure the population levels of doves in the state. He has especially been keeping an eye on two species that are legal to hunt, the mourning and white-winged doves, because both populations have fluctuated during the past decade or so.
The mourning dove population has been declining for the past seven or eight years; however, that dove species is still one of the most numerous in the United States, he said.
“We still have a lot of mourning doves,” Oldenburger said. About 160 million mourning doves live in Texas, and 350 million of them live in the United States.
White-winged doves also are numerous, although from the 1960s to the 1980s their numbers were dropping. Because of hunting restrictions, their numbers have increased, he said. Now, the Texas population of these birds is estimated at about 15 million, and special restrictions were lifted.
One of the reasons doves thrive is because they are able to adapt to various living conditions.
Oldenburger described the birds as “generalists” that can incorporate themselves into almost all the habitats in Texas. Although they prefer nesting in trees, they are able to nest on the ground if necessary.
Because about 90 percent of their diet is grain and seeds, the birds have flourished the most in the Panhandle area, he said.
The dove population remained stable in the piney woods of East Texas, but has fluctuated in West Texas where there are fewer seeds and sometimes less water during droughts, he said.
The white-winged dove population thrived in urban and suburban habitats, he said. About 40 percent of the species now live in those areas.
The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department cannot supply information about dove populations in cities; however, it does have information about the number of birds in certain ecological areas.
For example, part of Temple is in the Blackland Prairie area and another portion is in the Edwards Plateau, so bird populations could be determined for those two areas. The department is currently working on obtaining Texas bird populations for 2014.
“We are calculating numbers of birds for this year, but they’re not available yet. We expect populations of both birds to expand,” Oldenburger said.
Five species hunted
Only five of the seven Texas dove species can be legally hunted, including the mourning and white-winged doves, said Steve Lightfoot, media information specialist for Texas Parks & Wildlife.
Rock and Eurasian doves can be hunted anytime. Mourning, white-winged and white-tipped doves can only be hunted in season.
Bob Thornton, executive director and founder of the Texas Dove Hunters Association, said hunters should be aware that the seasonal dates for dove hunting in Texas have changed this year. The first season is shorter than last year, and the last season is longer.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved the 2014-2015 Texas dove season, including a 70-day season and 15-bird, daily bag limit statewide.
The traditional Sept. 1 dove season opening day in the North and Central zones is still in place. However, the first segment in those zones will be shorter than last season, closing Oct. 20. The season will reopen Dec. 19, and run through Jan. 7, in the North and Central zones, Lightfoot said.
In the South Zone and Special White-winged Dove Area, the first segment will be shortened by five days compared to last year, and those days will be added to the end of the second segment.
The South Zone opens Sept. 19 and runs through Oct. 20. The second segment will run Dec. 19 through Jan. 25.
The daily bag limit for doves statewide is 15, and the possession limit is 45.
Hunting in the Special White-winged Dove Area will be restricted to afternoon only from noon to sunset the first two full September weekends Sept. 6-7 and 13-14. Hunting in this area will reopen Sept. 19, continue through Oct. 20, and then reopen Dec. 19 through Jan. 21.
During the early two weekends, the daily bag limit is 15 birds, including not more than two mourning doves and two white-tipped doves.
Once the general season opens, the aggregate bag limit will be 15 with no more than two white-tipped doves, according to the website.